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On the Ground, Straight From the Top

by c/o nonanarchist0815 Friday, Dec. 12, 2003 at 1:24 PM

U.S. military commanders throughout Iraq have been saying for months -- almost unequivocally -- that they are winning the war against Iraqi insurgents, religious extremists and foreign terrorists in their sectors. This, even as attacks against U.S. forces increased across the country and a series of high-profile bombings and helicopter shoot-downs helped create the impression in the world media that the insurgents were gaining ground. Vernon Loeb, defense correspondent for The Post, asked commanders from the four major U.S. Army divisions in Iraq why they thought they were winning, and what they used as measures of success. Responding via e-mail, they had plenty to say. Excerpts:


On the Ground, Straight From the Top

Sunday, December 7, 2003; Page B03

U.S. military commanders throughout Iraq have been saying for months -- almost unequivocally -- that they are winning the war against Iraqi insurgents, religious extremists and foreign terrorists in their sectors. This, even as attacks against U.S. forces increased across the country and a series of high-profile bombings and helicopter shoot-downs helped create the impression in the world media that the insurgents were gaining ground. Vernon Loeb, defense correspondent for The Post, asked commanders from the four major U.S. Army divisions in Iraq why they thought they were winning, and what they used as measures of success. Responding via e-mail, they had plenty to say. Excerpts:


From Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr., commander of the 82nd Airborne Division:

Battle damage assessment is more an art than science. We attempt to quantify enemy capabilities and assess how well we are damaging or disrupting [that] capability. In conventional warfare, this may take the form of destroying enemy tank or artillery battalions, or even destroying sufficient enemy aircraft to attain air superiority. We attempt to apply the same type of rigor in insurgent warfare to assess guerrilla cells destroyed, IED [improvised explosive device] makers or financiers or even leaders killed or captured.

However, we recognize the limitations of such an approach, and we realize that the attitude of the population is the center of gravity for terrorists. Based upon the population's orientation, the terrorists and thugs will either have freedom [to] maneuver, unlimited resources of supplies and money, and unlimited reinforcements to regenerate their depleted ranks, or they will not. My final assessment is based not only upon strict battle damage assessment data, but also subjective and objective indicators and assessments of cooperation of the populace, and the instincts and experiences of commanders who work among the population every day. So, using this data and my subjective assessment based upon instincts and experiences from other unconventional efforts in Panama, Haiti, Bosnia and Iraq, we are certainly winning the tactical fight against these insurgents.


From Brig. Gen. Mark Hertling, assistant commander, 1st Armored Division:

Your question is a good one. It's not as if we can start counting enemy tanks and determine how many the enemy has left after a major tank-on-tank battle or results of BDA [bomb damage assessment] from Air Support. That's the challenge in an insurgency; it's part of Sun Tzu's dictum of knowing the enemy. So we have to gear metrics toward other means.

On a daily basis, we track frequency and types of attacks -- IEDs, RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades], small arms, mortars, rockets -- and their frequency and locations. . . .

Since Operation Iron Hammer, we have seen a drop-off in attacks against us, and we continue to see a decrease in crime (especially as we put more Iraqi Police and ICDC [Iraqi Civil Defense Corps] on the streets). We are seeing [an] upswing in the perception of U.S. forces' action in the Arab media . . . and a significant increase in tips from the locals of Baghdad, and an extremely significant increase in the turn-in of unlawful weapons. . . .

All these things may be due to the enemy lying low to see what we're doing; it might be due to us having significantly hurt the enemy during the operations; it could be that the thugs and criminals being paid to conduct the attacks are not up for fighting anymore. And, it might also mean that the average citizen of Baghdad is getting sick of fighting, and that same average citizen is better supporting the coalition (which we believe, from our data). Or, it might mean the enemy is gearing up for another offensive. And that's why it's important that we keep the pressure on with offensive operations and civil affairs actions, and working [with] the good people of Baghdad. . . .


From Lt. Col. Steve Russell, commander, 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division:

My perspective is obviously from a single point -- Tikrit. . . .

Our soldiers are not too concerned about "Mathmetactics." What we see is the enemy getting weaker and fewer in number in Tikrit. When he shows his hand, he pays for it. He has been unable to recruit effectively. The numbers of Iraqi men joining the police force, the civil defense forces and legitimate government jobs by comparison is telling. They obviously are voting by their actions for the new Iraq and they are showing confidence in their government and police forces unlike before. The cooperation we are now getting from the average citizen exceeds that which the terrorists receive.


From Lt. Col. Henry Arnold, commander, 2nd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 101st Airborne:

. . . During July and August, we were able to out-spend the FRL [former regime loyalists] and foreigners in most of the theater -- more particularly in the 101st AO [area of operation]. It was simply more economical to work with and for the Americans because we were disbursing more money into the local economy than Saddam had ever done, and the FRL could not keep up. Additionally, the benefit of the money was all local in the form of infrastructure rebuilt, schools and clinics back into operation or upgraded. The benefits from U.S. occupation during those two months were tangible to the average Iraqi. Why risk getting killed by shooting at Americans when you can work for them or with them and get paid more in the long run? . . .

As the money getting directly into the hands of the commanders dried up in September, the FRL/foreigners were then able to fill that gap with their money and we have witnessed a sharp increase in attacks ever since. . . . Although more money has been approved for Iraq, we have seen none of it out here yet, and the result is increasing disenchantment or indifference with our presence on the part of the average Iraqi. If we are not able to improve their daily existence as we were back in July and August, then we have become an occupation force. The money that is available is kept in Baghdad; [there is] a Byzantine process which commanders must navigate to get the funds; and there are all sorts of strings and bureaucracy attached.

It is virtually impossible for me to have the same overwhelming effect I had on the area back in JUL/AUG. Had we kept that pace up with the funds, we would certainly have turned that [elusive] corner by now with the hearts and minds. . . .

The second piece to "turning the corner" is putting Iraqis in charge of security. We have been too slow in getting the local police and border guards funded and equipped to effectively and confidently do their job out here. . . . We can't just give [the police] a modicum of training, a uniform, and a weapon and think they will effectively and confidently accomplish the tasks we desire. I would certainly think my chain of command was nuts if it expected me to conduct combat operations on the Syrian border without the ability to communicate or have sufficient transportation to reinforce, or evacuate casualties. Why should we expect anything different of the Iraqis? . . .

I am able to gauge our effectiveness against the insurgents in my AO by two means. First, we had direct fire fights with bad guys in SEP and OCT. In both instances, we suffered a few casualties but killed and wounded many of the attackers. They switched to a more indirect attack in NOV with the use of the first IED in my AO, followed by a rocket attack against our compound two nights ago. . . . This tells me that they know they will lose any direct engagement with me. It also tells me that they are not able to replenish their ranks after taking casualties. It only takes one or two guys to set up an IED or a battery-launched rocket. The second metric I use is the increase in assistance from the locals. . . . This basis of trust comes from our close interaction and support of the police and border guard as well as our engagement of key Arab sheikhs. . . .

These key men mostly prevent insurgents from acting in my AO by not approving or allowing it. In some rare cases, they will assist by giving me information on bad actors. . . . As the quality of life for the average Iraqi increases while we are here, the more they support us and do not support the FRL and foreigners.


From Col. Jefforey Smith, commander, 3rd Brigade, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne:

I think it would be inappropriate for me to state the specific measures of effectiveness (MOE) that we use to assess how we are doing except to say that we have them and believe they are a good tool. The MOE is not the only tool used to assess how we are doing. We do not sit around and compare numbers of enemy and friendly wounded and killed in action and number of captured people. We do discuss the effects of our leadership engagement with local Iraqi leaders, cooperation and communication with Iraqi security forces and most importantly the effects of our dialog with the Iraqi people. Additionally, we work very hard to assist with economic and governance development. And yes, we discuss enemy vulnerabilities and capabilities and plan and conduct military operations to take them down. Examples of signs of progress in my area of responsibility [include]:

? Improved cooperation with Iraqi Police [and] Facility Protection Service security forces . . . ;

? Greater willingness of the Iraqi people to be forthcoming with information that leads us to Former Regime Elements . . . ;

? Iraqi Police are doing a better job enforcing basic law and order . . . .

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